“In 1651 Barbados was said to be the most flourishing island in the British West Indies and during the following decade it enjoyed the Golden Age of its prosperity. White indentured servants were still plentiful and African slaves were being imported in steadily increasing numbers. Improved methods of cultivation were employed, the production of sugar increased more than fourfold and the price of that commodity remained at a consistently high level.
Out of these circumstances emerged the planters who made their way to the forefront of the island’s affairs mainly at the expense of the yeoman farmers. The pattern of the Barbadian economy suited them well and they took the opportunity to establish themselves in the economic and political life of the colony. The phase to be “as wealthy as a West Indian planter” may well have owed its origin to the affluence of the Barbadian planter aristocrat.
The “Golden Age”, however, did not last more than a decade. The period of great prosperity was followed by one of decline. A host of evils came upon the inhabitants of Barbados. When the woods were cleared, the cultivated fields were attacked by monkeys and racoons. The cane was gnawed by rats which had come across the Atlantic as unsuspected passengers on board the English ships. To cope with the rats, cane fields were set on fire, but these fires frequently spread when strong winds arose and fanned them out of control of the planters. And the practice of burning the canes was imitated by the slaves when they wanted to give expression to their bitter resentment against their enslaved condition.
Moreover, the Barbadian soil began to show signs of exhaustion. The land had grown much poorer and produced much less sugar. A strange kind of caterpillar came upon the scene “like the locusts of Egypt” and devoured everything that chanced to come its way. A fire broke out in 1666, which destroyed Bridgetown and was followed two years later by a drought which was accompanied by one of those epidemics that raged in the island during the latter part of the seventeenth century. Such epidemics, not always clearly identified, were of smallpox, or yellow fever, typhoid, dysentery or elephantrasis.
When this calamitous decade ended, Barbados, with remarkable resilience, seemed about to return to its normal condition. But its efforts to regain a measure of prosperity were frustrated by the renewed conflict between the British and the Dutch who succeeded on one occasion in capturing the whole fleet of ships transporting Barbados sugar to its overseas markets.
Nor was this the end of the troubles. In 1675 the island was visited by a disastrous hurricane and few things seemed to survive the ravages of that tempest. In some areas of the island all the sugar works and dwelling houses were destroyed and few, if any, of the windmills escaped the fury of the high winds. Canes were flattened by the force of the hurricane and some were uprooted from the ground as if by some malignant giant. The pots in the curing houses were all smashed to bits and vessels in Carlisle Bay were driven on to the shore by the gales of wind. Slaves were diverted to the task of rebuilding the shatter houses and, as a result, the damage to crops in 1675 was followed by a total lack of a crop the next year, owing to the lack of an adequate labour force to cultivate the land.” (Hoyos, 1978)
“The Plantocrats (1)
In the circumstances described above, it is not surprising that a number of planters emigrated with all their belongings to seek their fortunes anew in other parts of the world. It was only the wealthier planters, the Plantocrats, who survived to enjoy a period of prosperity that started in 1677 and lasted for some years.” (Hoyos, 1978)
The leading families who remained in Barbados and carried on into the eighteenth are listed in Table 6.
Table 6: Leading White Families of the eighteenth Century (Beckles, 2006)
Adams Ford Jordan Salter
Alleyne Frere Lyte Skeete
Applewhaite Gibbes Maycock Terrill
Beckles Gibbons Maynard Thornhill
Best Gittens Osbourne Walker
Bishop Haynes Peers Waldron
Braithwaite Hinds Pinder Walters
Carrington Holder Powell Waterman
Cumberbatch Hothersall Rous Weeks
Dottin Husbands Salmon Yeamans
These families through their wealth, and influence controlled the socioeconomic fabric of the island for many years. Many held positions of status such as judges, military officers, politicians, merchants and clergymen, in addition to being wealthy planters. The influence and control they exerted was further strengthen by the inter-marriage of the leading families. For example, our Gittens family married into both the Carrington and Weeks families during the eighteenth century.
Our Gittens family must have certainly been part of the Barbados Plantcracy of the eighteenth century. Research indicates that the listed individuals were actively involved in the political, economic and social affairs on the Island.
Benjamin Gittens (1701-1730) Merchant
Benjamin Gittens (1716-1743) Planter
Benjamin Gittens (1730-1790) Planter (Green’s Plantation, St. George) , Appointed Chief Baron of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer, Provisional Grand Master of Masons 1783
Isaac Gittens (1739-1819) Planter (Gorings and Gooding Plantations)
John Gittens (1701- ) Captain in Militia, Planter
John Gittens (1712-1768) Member of Assembly 1750-1763, Chief Judge of St. Michael 1768, Colonel in militia
John Benjamin Gittens (1759-1790) Doctor
Joseph Gittens (1693-1761) Doctor
Joseph Gittens (1730-1791) Planter
Joseph Gittens (1763 – 1805) Planter
Joshua Mayers Gittens (1741-1819) Member of Assembly, succeeded his father John from 1768-1807, Commissioned as a Judge 1781, Deputation as Comptroller 1793, Commissioned as Judge of Precinct of St. Andrews. 1797, Judge of Christ Church 1807, Judge of the Courts of Common Pleas 1807, Planter (Pilgrim Plantation)
Nathaniel Gittens (1676-1752) Planter (Thickett Plantation)
Samuel Gittens (1674-1718) Planter (26 acres in St. Philip)
Samuel Gittens (1729-1772) Planter
Thomas Gittens (1753-1759) Planter
William Gittens (1769- ) Planter
Beckles, H. M. (2006). A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market. Cambridge: University Press.
Hoyos, F. A. (1978). Barbados : A History from Amerindians to Independence. Macmillan Publishers Limited 1978.
note (1) : A plantocracy, also known as a slavocracy, is a ruling class, political order or government composed of (or dominated by) plantation owners.
A number of early European colonies in the New World were largely plantocracies, usually consisting of a small European settler population relying on a predominantly West African chattel slave population (as well as smaller numbers of indentured slaves, both European and non-European in origin), and later, “freed”-Black and poor-white sharecroppers for labour. These plantocracies proved to be a decisive force in the anti-abolitionist movement. One prominent organization largely representing (and collectively funded by) a number of plantocracies was the “West Indies Lobby” in the British Parliament. It is credited (or conversely, discredited) in constituting a significant impetus in delaying the abolition of the slave trade from taking place in the 1790s to being implemented in 1806-1808; and likewise, with respect to prospects of emancipation being proclaimed in the 1820s (instead, a policy known as “Amelioration” was formally adopted throughout 1823-1833), to it being implemented in 1834-1838.